President Obama’s off-base
May 17, 2012 6 Comments
The White House’s campaign messaging has been all over the place in recent weeks. And contrary to his 2008 promise, the President has come off as more of a divider than a uniter. Not to be confused with President Bush, who was mocked for proclaiming himself the “Decider.”
The Obama team’s trail of message wreckage started with February’s awkwardly handled contraception mandate work around, which, for all the trouble, still leaves some religious organizations paying indirectly for services they find unconscionable.
Then, erupting inconveniently last week was President Obama’s personal “evolution” on gay marriage. Many observers saw the President’s hand forced by discretion-challenged Vice President Joe Biden. What’s most vexing about this iteration of the marriage debate is not the particular stance taken, but the justification as to how one arrives there. Biden baffled us all with the idea that the 1998-2006 sitcom Will and Grace was for him some pivotal, moral tour de force.
As one poll shows, Obama and company seem to have alienated swing voters on the social issues. But they have tried mightily to boost their standing with female voters, trumpeting the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as a great and early first term accomplishment. All the act does is give women more time to sue their bosses for the phantom menace of wage discrimination–a boon for Democrat’s loyal base of litigious attorneys. Touted as historic and consequential, the act is only known because the Obama team has dusted it off as a showpiece for the 2012 campaign.
Indeed, the Ledbetter Act featured prominently as part of the Life of Julia, a fictional every-woman whose slideshow biography was quickly and widely ridiculed for its earnest portrayal of a hopelessly lonely, overly dependent, Obama-centered life. Rather than making the conventional, family-oriented “Harry and Louise” kitchen table-type pitch, The Life of Julia deliberately caters to the fervent, perennially disaffected fringe that is Obama’s base.
To see just how hard the Campaigner-in-Chief has tacked toward those who self-identify as embattled and aggrieved, we need only look to the recent “dueling” commencement speeches delivered this past week. Conservative commentator Michael Medved noted that of all the colleges in the country he could have spoken at, President Obama chose the elite, astronomically expensive Barnard College. His audience at the women’s liberal arts college was a particularly concentrated sample of privilege: women now far surpass men in educational achievement by the numbers, from undergraduate enrollment to attainment of advanced degrees. Yet, the faculty and students were ebullient when the President was introduced as one who appointed so many women and minorities to the highest offices. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s receptive audience at Liberty University, with its larger student body and more affordable tuition, was a far more representative cross-section of America, on the socioeconomic level not to mention anything of gender representation.
The White House has garnered a few days’ media attention on other issues: “spiking the football” at the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, and the economic distractions of the Buffett Rule and the student loan rate relief. The former was no help to the incumbent, with liberal Arianna Huffington calling one Democratic campaign spot “despicable.” The paltry Buffett Rule captures more class resentment votes than it would actual marginal revenue from the wealthy. Likewise, the playing up of the student loan rate extension nakedly caters to the college age vote, while dangerously distorting market decisions about the relative value of earning a degree.
All told, the President seems pretty set on stoking his base with the visceral fuel of social, class, and identity politics. Meanwhile, substantive solutions for the economy, as well as the sensibility of swing voters, remain neglected. Sending Biden around with the fib that he’s working class will only go so far. We’ll see in the months ahead if the Obama team can refocus, or if Romney, sticking to the economy and clearly rising, can build and maintain a respectable distance. Let’s hope so for our country’s sake.